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Keith Moon: 1947-1978

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Estranged from his wife, Kim, and daughter, Mandy (now thirteen), Moon moved to California in 1976. There, he said last August, he had done very little but "play pool at Ringo's house, go in the ocean for a swim and go down to the clubs at night." He played a few sessions for producer Steve Cropper and made some solo demos. But without the Who, his life had no real center. He had to be hospitalized several times in recent years. Keith Altham remembers visiting Moon in the hospital after one such episode. "I said, 'Keith, don't you think you should take this as a sign that you must slow down?' He just shook his head and said no."

"I think he actually believed himself indestructible," Entwistle noted. "He was quite shocked that he'd broken a few bones over the past few years. I mean, I've seen him tumble down thirty stairs and get up as though nothing had happened and begin a conversation. So when he broke his collarbone, he couldn't quite believe it."

Last spring Moon returned to London, where he sublet Harry Nilsson's flat in the expensive Mayfair district. (Ironically, it is the same apartment where Cass Elliott of the Mamas and Papas died in 1974.) He had worked on the completion of Who Are You and taken on duties as public-relations director of Shepperton. "He sort of knew that it was a way for the others to help him out," said Jeff Stein, the young American director of The Kids Are Alright. "But he also knew it was something that he could really do."

Stein and his crew remember Moon with fond hilarity. He spent a great deal of time in their editing room. On the wall hangs a picture of his last visit: Moon had come by to help edit the film. He is posed with one hand around Stein's throat, bending him over the editing table. In the other hand is a hatchet.

Keith Moon Bites Back

"He came in right after he'd taken the publicity job, wearing a very straight suit," Stein recalled. "And he said, 'Hello, my friends. Everyone working hard?' But after a couple of hours he was back being the old Moon." Yet Moon was serious about his role, putting together biographies of the crew, and on a recent trip to Mauritius, he spent time with figures in the Indian film industry discussing the possibility of their using Shepperton studio.

"We knew three different people," Entwistle said. "There was the straight, normal Moon, the belligerent, posh-voiced Moon, and the completely unreasonable maniac – the one who argued in circles. You could usually tell by his first sentence. But I saw a lot more of the nice Keith Moon in the last few months."

Part of Moon's problem may have had to do with the fact that was younger than the others in the band. This had led some to feel that an old Moon was unimaginable. "He was like a brother," Daltrey says. "But I could never imagine him getting old. That would have been cruel in itself."

But Entwistle doesn't see it that way. "I could imagine him getting old. He looked as though he was going to grow into sort of a W.C. Fields character." True enough – had he lived, Moon's next acting project would have been the role of prophet in Monty Python's next film, Brian of Nazareth.

In a way, maybe that is what Keith Moon really was. Both in terms of his drumming style and his way of life, he set an early pattern for the outrages of rock, though few played the role with as much humor as he did. And, as he was careful to point out in our interview last month, no one ever got hurt in his escapades: "It's always been taken out on objects. Things that can be replaced."

No one ever got hurt, that is, except Keith Moon. He should have been wealthy when he died, but that's unlikely. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on hotel room damages alone; it is symptomatic that he left no will. Planning for the future just wasn't his style.

Stated Townshend: "I've always complained that up till now when I've walked into a pub, someone has slid next to me, nudged me and said, "Ere, that Keith Moon, what's he really like? For the first time in my life, I will know what to answer – I wish I didn't."

Moon's body was cremated Monday, September 11th. A small funeral ceremony for family, band members and a few close associates was held on Wednesday, when the ashes were interred. But Curbishley and Altham indicated that a larger memorial – perhaps a concert – might be held in the following few weeks. It could hardly fail to be appropriate. Somber endings weren't Moon's style.

This story is from the October 19th, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

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A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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